In Celebration of Motherhood: The Ultimate Leadership Role

May 12 , 2019 •  7 minute read • by Saeed


“Mothers who work full time – they are the real heroes.” Kate Winslet

In 1936, the US was gripped by the Great Depression and one photographer, Dorothea Lange, decided to abandon her portrait and studio work to document the suffering she was witnessing all around her.

As Lange was driving through Nipomo California on a mild March day, she passed by a pea pickers camp but continued to drive on tired from her day’s work. But something mysterious nagged at her and she turned around after initially driving 20 miles past the camp. Photographers know this nagging feeling all too well. Something unbeknownst to her was beckoning her back.

As it turned out, the image she would snap of Florence Owens Thompson, Migrant Mother, would become the most iconic photo of the Depression and arguably of the 20th century. Lange spent 10 minutes and shot six images. In the final image Migrant Mother gazes into the distance with all the suffering and weariness of poverty upon her face juxtaposed with a clear sense of dignity and grit. Her children cowering behind her for protection communicate all the strength of family, motherhood, and yes, leadership.

She is on her own.

In contemporary U.S. society, leadership continues to be viewed as a masculine activity. Yet, in a study of 60 women leaders (Erkut & Winds of Change Foundation, 2001) close to 40% of prominent women from a variety of fields spontaneously made reference to motherhood when describing a good leader or leadership training. This is not to say that fathers don’t embody some or all of these qualities or to suggest that it is necessary for women to be mothers to become effective leaders. Rather, it is simply an acknowledgement of the role of motherhood and the significance of the traits mothers exhibit universally as it pertains to leadership.

  1. On modeling the way: Moms lead their children every day. As the old adage goes, children follow what you do and not what you say and the same holds true for leadership. The best leaders are role models first and your first role model is your mom.
  2. On being a servant leader: While servant leadership is a hot topic in leadership circles today, it is actually a timeless concept practiced by mothers everywhere. The concept is rooted in the quality and trait of those leaders who want to serve first and no-one embodies this better than your mom.
  3. On emphasizing growth and development: Who is more invested in your growth and development than your mom? Who has coached you through your life’s struggles and always kept encouraging you to persevere and succeed? You guessed it. Mom. It is her encouragement and inspiration that has helped you grow and flourish.
  4. On communicating core values: The best leaders consistently communicate the core values of the organization and live those values. Values are in your DNA and they were probably passed onto to you by your mother first and foremost.
  5. On fostering purpose and passion: Studies have shown that people are at their best when they are passionate about what they are doing and when they have tapped into their life purpose. Leaders (and mothers) unleash the enthusiasm of their followers (and their children) with stories and passions of their own and encourage you to lead purposeful and heart-centered lives.
  6. On fostering health and well being: The best leaders know that people are not assets. They are human beings. Without them, there is no organization. The health and well-being of your team or organization is dependent on the health and well-being of its members. The best leaders know that and so does your mom.
  7. On creating communities: Collaborative leaders understand that one of their more important roles is to create communities. Leadership is the result of a social contract and only occurs in a social framework where you influence the direction people are going in and unite them in accomplishing a common goal. I am willing to bet that it’s your mom that’s at the center of the community created around your family.
  8. On demonstrating grit: Mothers (and the best leaders) are tough-minded on standards and tender-hearted with people. In her book, “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” Angela Duckworth illustrates how grit matters just as much, if not more, than both talent and luck to achieving extraordinary things. This, for me, is the enduring legacy of Migrant Mother.

A Final Word:

When it was first published, the image of Migrant Mother sparked a flurry of philanthropy but no one ever knew what had happened to Florence Thompson. As it turns out, a reporter discovered her living in a trailer park outside Modesto California in 1978. She was 75 years old. She married at 17 and when she was 28 and pregnant with her sixth child, her husband died of tuberculosis. That’s why he wasn’t in the iconic picture. Thereafter, she would put her babies in bags and carry them around as she worked the fields. Maintaining her dignity throughout her ordeal, she was initially reluctant to allow Lange to photograph her and her family as specimens of poverty. In 1983 Thompson suffered a stroke and was unable to pay her hospital bills. Her children used her identity as Migrant Mother to raise the funds she needed to pay her expenses. She died soon after the stroke but her dignity always endured and does to this day as a symbol of motherhood and humanity in the face of extreme adversity.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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©2019 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

Are managers leaders? Are leaders managers?

May 6 , 2019 •  5 minute read • by Saeed


“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” – Peter Drucker

The debate about management vs. leadership is a long standing one in organizational development literature. The terms “management” and “leadership” are often interchanged. Some, view management as distinct from leadership as day is from night. One key distinction often made between management and leadership is that as managers, we manage things (physical assets, processes, and systems) and as leaders, we lead people (customers, external and internal partners).

This is a false distinction.

While it is important to recognize the differences between leadership and management, it is also important to appreciate that the two have complementary strengths, as well. In fact, both are necessary for a high-performance organization. The truth is managers need to be good leaders – their people need vision, consideration, and guidance! And leaders need to be good managers of the resources entrusted to them!

So how do you do both?

  1. Be Mission Oriented: Never lose sight of the mission, purpose, and results you need to achieve. Put out the fires, yes, but try not to be distracted and forced into applying your energy in different directions. While these difficulties often need to be attended to, don’t allow them to diffuse your impact.
  2. Shoot for the Moon: Almost anyone can achieve easy goals. But what is your competition aiming for? Good leaders use their visioning skills to set Big Hairy Audacious Goals with a thorough understanding of how to reach them… not with reckless abandon. Good managers set up systems to help their people achieve the goals.
  3. Take the coach approach: good leaders and managers are also good coaches. They know that there are teaching moments and learning opportunities around every corner and they keep a pulse on their employees levels of engagement through structured coaching conversations. Not only must you coach your people, you must also change the culture to a mindset of a learning organization – a coaching culture if you will. You cannot be the only coach — the entire organization needs to know the skills, have the technologies, and create the atmosphere that allows people to help develop others through both formal and informal experiences.
  4. Be a role model: At the end of the day, people watch what you do, not what you say. Remember always that you are a role model of the organization who sets the standard by being a person of good character, knowing your job, and doing all that matters to advance the work. The standards you set are the standards that will be followed.
  5. Create inclusive environments: Diversity makes an organization effective by capitalizing on all of the strengths of each employee. It is about empowering people by understanding, valuing, and using the differences in every person. Mastering diversity leads to inclusion where all people feel they are highly valued for their uniqueness. In turn, the organization benefits from the synergistic effects of a cohesive team who bring an array of experiences to the table.

A Final Word

In order for you to engage your staff in providing the best service to your customers, clients or partners, you must enroll them in your vision and align their perceptions and behaviors. You need to get them excited about where you are taking them while making sure they know what’s in it for them. With smaller organizations, the challenge lies in making sure you are both leading your team as well as managing your day to day operations. Those who are able to do both, will create a competitive advantage. Both management and leadership are needed to make teams and organizations successful. Trying to decide which is more important, is like trying to decide whether the front or back wheel is more important to balancing a bicycle.

Good luck.

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I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.

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©2019 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

Why It’s Time to Ditch Your Performance Reviews

April 10 , 2019 •  5 minute read • by Saeed


“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” 

-Ken Blanchard

Most employees look forward to their performance review the way they look forward to a funeral. They are equally dreaded by the managers who deliver them.

Despite the goal, you give employees constructive feedback about their work to encourage individual performance, most are a dreary exercise in further disillusionment, disconnection and demoralization.

That’s because in many organizations today, reviews aren’t really designed to help employees grow; they’re designed to manage promotions and raises or to go through the motions of performance management and accountability.

Instead, the performance management system goal should be to provide on-going coaching and feedback to employees with the aim of developing and improving employee performance and team effectiveness.

This requires that employees receive on-going constructive feedback about their job performance in relation to their goals, their approach to innovation and the opportunities before them to create value.

Compare this to top flight athletes. They don’t receive reviews a couple of times of year.  If they did, they’d fail.  Rather, they receive on-going coaching.  This type of feedback creates an immediate awareness of what they’re doing right and what they need to do to overcome barriers and do even better.

With this in mind, perhaps it’s time to ditch this archaic exercise.

Master the Coaching Conversation

There are progressive companies out there that have moved away from traditional performance reviews, in favor of creating cultures of coaching, feedback, development, and high performance.

Such organizations have managed to re-shape their cultures to ones based on coaching; where everyone in a leadership role is trained on how to coach.  In this way, leaders give their employees constant performance feedback, which in turn, engages employees and creates a desire to continuously improve.

Rather than once or twice yearly, coaching happens throughout the year; possibly every day.  And because it is on-going, it eliminates the need for formal annual appraisals and reviews.

You can begin by incorporating the constructive aspects of reviews in your existing one-on-one meetings as an opportunity for feedback and coaching.  You can dedicate time during these sessions to a discussion on how the person can enhance their own performance and play to their strengths.  In so doing, you remove the unconstructive focus on ratings.

I’ve often heard that managers resist the concept of on-going coaching because they believe it is too time-consuming. Actually, it is quite the opposite.

Managing poor performance is extremely time consuming.

In the traditional system, you have to provide written reviews, spend time with employees to discuss these reviews, monitor progress made based on these reviews and provide corrective feedback as required.

In contrast, on-going coaching might take 5 minutes of a manager’s time every week. Yet it is a powerful force in demonstrating the concern the Manager has for her employee’s development. With such enhanced and regular communication and interaction, corrective measures are more easily and seamlessly applied and results are visible fairly quickly.

You can structure your conversations to first receive an update on the one to three action items agreed to at the last meeting. Second, ask for a success story or a moment of pride. Third, brainstorm either a solution to a problem or an opportunity to pursue. And fourth, agree on one to three action items that the employee will focus on in the coming week.

A Final Word

Coaching conversations are not performance reviews; they are discussions. So talk less and let your employee talk more. Sit back, listen, ask questions for clarity. When it’s your turn to speak, give positive and constructive feedback. Tell your employee what she did well and where you see opportunities for growth. Specific examples are always helpful.

If your employee is doing most of the talking – about her wins and challenges, how she’s learning and growing – then you’ve mastered the art of the coaching conversation.

 

Good Luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.

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©2019 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

The Single Most Important Communication Skill to Getting What You Want

April 8 , 2019 •  4 minute read • by Saeed


“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

-George Bernard Shaw

Building good relationships in the workplace is imperative to your success. It goes without saying that developing strong communication skills will increase the chance of successful relationships.

Communication skills, broadly speaking, encompass a cluster of skills related to how you articulate your points (assertively, aggressively or submissively), your ability to listen actively, how you ask questions and your non verbal communication i.e. your voice tone, body language and facial expressions, learning how to deal with conflict, presentation skills, giving feedback and so on.

It Starts With How You See Things

It all starts with how you see things. Your beliefs and thoughts, expectations, attitudes to yourself and others –  all have impact on the quality of your interaction with others. They play a key role in whether you are communicating assertively, submissively or aggressively.

If your thoughts are negative about the situation, yourself or the other person, it follows that your emotions will be impacted negatively as well. If you find yourself getting angry, annoyed, nervous, uptight etc., the cause of these negative feelings is rooted in how you think about the situation in the first place. These feelings impact on your behaviors which come across in your communication. And this is the self-fulfilling prophecy that then influences the overall outcome.

How To Communicate More Effectively

Assertive communication is the honest expression of one’s own needs, wants and feelings, while respecting those of the other person. When you communicate assertively, your manner is non-threatening and non-judgmental, and you take responsibility for your own actions. Assertive communication is stating your needs and wants, feelings, opinions and beliefs in direct, honest and appropriate ways.

Assertive communication is the premier communication skill that can reduce conflict, build your self-confidence and improve relationships in the workplace.

Here are some tips to help you learn to be more assertive:

  • Make the decision to positively assert yourself. Commit to being assertive rather than passive or aggressive and start practicing what that looks like today.
  • Aim for open and honest communication. Remember to respect other people when you are sharing your feelings, wants, needs, beliefs or opinions.
  • Listen actively. Try to understand the other person’s point of view and don’t interrupt when they are explaining it to you.
  • Agree to disagree. Remember that having a different point of view doesn’t mean you are right and the other person is wrong.
  • Avoid guilt trips. Be honest and tell others how you feel or what you want without making accusations or making them feel guilty.
  • Stay calm. Breathe normally, look the person in the eye, keep your face relaxed and speak in a normal voice.
  • Take a problem-solving approach to conflict. Try to see the other person as your friend not your enemy.
  • Practice assertiveness. Talk in an assertive way in front of a mirror or with a friend. Pay attention to your body language as well as to the words you say.
  • Use ‘I’. Stick with statements that include ‘I’ in them such as ‘I think’ or ‘I feel’. Don’t use aggressive language such as ‘you always’ or ‘you never’.
  • Be patient. Being assertive is a skill that needs practice. Remember that you will sometimes do better at it than at other times, but you can always learn from your mistakes.

A final word

Assertive communication style brings many benefits. For example, it can help you to relate to others more genuinely, with less anxiety and resentment. It also gives you more control over your life, and reduces feelings of helplessness. Furthermore, it allows OTHER people the right to live their lives.

Good Luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.

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©2019 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

Three Keys to Building Career Equity and Longevity

March 27 , 2019 •  5 minute read • by Saeed


“There is no such thing as great work without longevity.”

-Johnny Hunt

Career longevity is no longer about staying in one job for years on end. But change is not what does you in. It’s the frequency of the changes. Shifting gears too often or pulling a 180 to do something completely different than your expertise can sabotage your efforts at building career longevity. Job hopping frequently because you can’t get along with your coworkers or management or because you lack focus and don’t know what you want in your life can be a career killer.

We are not talking about people with legitimate reasons to make change. The bad boss is the classic. Sometimes we’re stuck in a job that is not good for us or we need a career change. In these instances, change can be good.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, wage and salary workers have been with their current employer for a median of 4.6 years (that doesn’t include the 14 million Americans who are self-employed free agents).

That statistic simply represents a major generational shift where the trend has moved towards more change more often. In places like Silicon Valley, not only is it acceptable, it can even be a badge of honor.  For the millennial set, it’s simply the way things are.

But as a whole, building longevity is no longer about staying with one company and holding out for the gold watch.

Rather, building career longevity is about staying fresh and building career equity.

You build equity by developing a reputation, set of skills, contacts and relationships as well as behaviors that value self improvement and the kind of adaptability that will allow you to be seen as a change maker, not someone who wants to cling to the status quo.

1.      Relationship Equity

Above all, you should always be building  positive long-term relationships with co-workers and colleagues. Make an effort to clearly understand who they are, how their values align with yours, and what professional skills they bring. You also have an opportunity to help these colleagues build their careers and skills, and in so doing, you build long-term and mutual respect, trust, and goodwill. Ultimately, people want to work with other people they like. So be likable, approachable and a good colleague. It goes a long way.

2.      Reputation Equity

Think of your reputation as your professional brand. No company would ever risk their reputation intentionally. It is career suicide. Your professional brand is basically what people think of when you are not in the room: your character, values, judgment, reliability, integrity and other aspects of your character.

You build your reputation equity by the work that you do, how you talk to and treat people, your visibility, how you engage customers and clients and so on. It’s the footprint that you uniquely leave behind. The longer you work in your profession, the stronger your professional reputation will be. You are entirely in charge of it. You can either sabotage it or nurture it. The choices you make will determine your ultimate success.

3.      Skills Equity

What exactly is your portfolio of skills? What skills do you lack? What skills are important to have in your role or industry? Build your professional portfolio around signature projects. Look to obtain skills that if leveraged would get you a big return on the investment you made in obtaining that skill. Look at career opportunities from the perspective of how they’ll help you build your skills portfolio. Raise your hand to lead projects whenever you can, even if it means putting in extra work. Find ways to distinguish your contributions, and work on high-visibility projects.  Take responsibility for your own engagement and for attaining the skills that make you a stand out contributor.

A Final Word

So how long should you stay at your job? Well, according to research, it takes about two years to build career equity or a return on the individual’s investment of time, energy and skill that is meaningful to a firm and to the individual’s career.

If you just started a new job and you are worried about your staying power, or if you don’t know how to intentionally build career equity, get a coach. If the company does not provide one, hire one yourself or take the initiative to develop relationships with peers and “go-to” people for support. Avoid violating career threatening, yet unwritten rules. This is critical to making the new start a success and to building momentum.  Remember, the way we manage endings helps us take advantage of new beginnings and build career equity, and thereby, career longevity.

Good Luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others. 

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©2019 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

The Secret Weapon To Achieving Your Goals

March 26 , 2019 •  6 minute read • by Saeed


“Work is love made visible.”

-Kahil Gibran

Contrary to the common belief, goal setting was not invented by self-help gurus and life coaches.

There is actually an impressive body of evidence behind the theory of goal setting dating back to the early 70’s. This research shows how focus, attention, persistence, feedback, incentives, rewards, self-efficacy and a host of other factors influence our degree of success or failure in achieving goals.

In over 25 years of working with real people, I’ve fine tuned what an effective goal-setting process looks like and I’ve come to the conclusion that while goals can be SMART, aligned with your values, big, audacious and hairy, there is one factor that people commonly skip, that tends to make the biggest difference in whether or not those goals are reached.

Research shows that when we make a goal visible and keep it in front of us, our chances for achieving that goal increase dramatically.

In 1979, interviewers asked students enrolled in a Harvard MBA program, how many of them set goals. They found 84% of them set no goals at all, 13% of them set goals but they weren’t committed on paper and only 3% of them set goals that were committed on paper and had planned to accomplish them.

In 1989, they interviewed the same individuals again, they found that 13% of those who set goals but weren’t committed on paper were making twice as much as the 84% who had never set goal.

The 3% who set goals and committed on paper and had the plan to accomplish them were making more money than the 97% put together.

Goal visibility is about motivation, commitment, progress and accountability. It is at this intersection that success in achieving your goals is had. As a social species and one that gives primacy to sight, people have envisioned their dreams and desires from the dawn of time. It’s only natural that we still do. We care about what others think and see. In today’s workplace, shared goals are a powerful way to keep team members on the same page and to drive engagement.

How to make your goals visible:

1.      Talk about it: telling others about your goals creates an immediate accountability mechanism. The larger the audience, the larger the accountability. It’s easier to slip out of accountability if you tell one friend or colleague vs. your whole team or company.

2.      Doodle about it: draw, paint, clip pictures out of a newspaper and create something compelling and meaningful that can represent your goal and how you see it. Having a visual representation of what you are trying to achieve and where you are trying to go is a powerful reminder of the rewards waiting for you. Human beings are not terribly good at being patient for what’s in the distant future. A visual representation of the future you want to create would go a long way towards keeping that desired state in your line of sight.

3.      Write about it: studies have consistently shown that writing down goals increases the odds of completion. When you write down goals, they immediately become real and in writing them down, you can see whether they lack specificity or are overly ambitious. The act of documenting the goals helps get you clear on them.

4.      Post about it: finally, sharing your goals with others provides the opportunity for feedback and accountability. Friends and colleagues will begin to take an interest in your goals and check in on progress. Sharing your goals will also encourage others to share their creating the opportunity for mutual accountability partners. But you also have to avoid making goals *too* visible. Derek Sivers discusses public goals in his TED Talk, sharing how a public announcement of goals gives you a similar satisfaction to actually completing them — and then, you don’t bother.

A final word…

Lastly, be sure you review your goals on a regular basis and don’t be afraid to discard those that are outdated or no longer relevant.  If a goal is no longer meeting its purpose, don’t be afraid to yank it. Sometimes you need to eliminate less important goals in order to meet the ones that matter. The law of diminishing returns would dictate that the fewer goals you have, the more likely you are to meet them with excellence and depth.

It goes without saying that goals have to be meaningful. Otherwise, goal setting can lead to pressure, frustration and a feeling of failure. Stay determined and positive. With the right mindset and mechanisms in place, you can achieve anything you want. Above all, make it visible.

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others. 

I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

©2019 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

5 Steps to Coaching Your Employees to Success (Based on the Co-Active Coaching Model)

March 14, 2019 • 5 minute read • by Saeed


“While the big events of our lives create the impetus for change, it is the moment-by- moment choices that mold and shape us.” 

― Karen Kimsey-House, Co-Active Leadership: Five Ways to Lead

If you have room in your head for only one nugget of leadership wisdom, make it this one: the most powerfully motivating condition people experience at work is: making progress at meaningful work. And coaching can help your team members experience progress at meaningful work.

To do so, regular communication around development — having coaching conversations — is essential to understand what drives each person.

Unfortunately, many supervisors think they don’t have the time to have these conversations, and many lack the skill. Yet 70% of employee learning and development happens on the job, not through formal training programs. This is an opportunity missed.

Coaching is a powerful experience that creates a resonant connection with another person and helps them achieve something they care about while helping them become more of who they want to be. If there’s anything an effective, resonant coaching conversation produces, it’s positive energy.

Start today to be a more effective manager by engaging in regular coaching conversations with your team members. As you resolve to support their ongoing learning and development, here are five key tips to get you started.

1.      Design Your Alliance

First, design and sustain your alliance. While your role as a coach is not to provide answers, supporting your team members’ developmental goals and strategies is essential. But to do so, you need to establish an environment of mutuality and trust. As a coach, you must know how to work with your team member to empower them. This is a process of ‘co-creation’ where the employee also helps create the kind of coach she needs. Here, you can ask questions like:

  • What are you looking for in me as your coach?
  • If this coaching was to be effective, what would it look like?
  • What is the best way for me to challenge you?
  • How do you want me to respond when you have not completed something you wanted me to complete?

The designed alliance is the co-created space within which the coaching takes place. This space is dynamic and evolving so periodically you can check in on your designed alliance to see how it’s working for you. Just like ground rules you may need to add, modify, or delete some of your agreements depending on how the relationship has evolved.

2.      Listen with curiosity: 

Have you ever had the luxurious and deeply validating experience of communicating with someone who is completely focused on you and actively listening to what you have to say with an open mind and an open heart? What does that feel like? That’s coaching. And listening in coaching may be the most important skill set.

You can open a coaching conversation with a question such as “How would you like to grow this month?” Listen with your full attention, and create a high-quality connection that invites your team member to open up and to think creatively and then follow your curiosity.

3.      Ask, don’t tell.

As a manager, you are used to problem solving. This is fine when you’re clarifying action steps for a project you’re leading or when people come to you asking for advice. But in a coaching conversation, it’s essential to restrain your impulse to provide the answers. Your path is not your employee’s path. Open-ended questions, not answers, are the tools of coaching. You succeed as a coach by helping your team members articulate their goals and challenges and find their own answers. This is how people clarify their priorities and devise strategies that resonate with what they care about most and that they will be committed to putting into action.

There are two main types of questions, OPEN and CLOSED. Closed questions are less useful in coaching because they only promote a “yes” or “no” response. Open questions promote discovery and stimulate thinking. They are therefore ideal for coaching.

Open questions are ones that start with what, where, when, how, and who. Aim to avoid the ‘why’ question which can be seen as aggressive and stimulate a defensive response. There are three specific types of open questions you may find helpful when coaching. They are:

  1. Clarifying questions: “What else can you tell me about that?”
  2. Creative questions. “What if the possibilities were limitless?”
  3. Process questions. “How would you approach that from a different perspective?”

The best way to get someone to self generate ideas and solutions is by asking them, which is why powerful questions are so critical. And powerful questions are the key to helping individuals unlock their own potential.

4.      Forward the Action

Oftentimes in a coaching conversation, the person you’re coaching will get caught up in their own stories.  While it can provide temporary relief to vent, it doesn’t generate solutions. Take a moment to acknowledge your employee’s frustrations, but then encourage her to think about how to move past them. You might ask, “What is it you really want?” or “Which of the activities you mentioned offer the greatest potential for reaching your goal?” Then, when the employee is settled on an action, ask them what action, if taken, would make the biggest difference in helping them advance towards their goal.

5.      Build accountability.

Last, but not least, it is imperative that the employee follow through on commitments. Accountability increases the positive impact of coaching conversations and solidifies their rightful place as keys to organizational effectiveness. If your employee plans to network with other potential business partners, for example, give these plans more weight by asking her to identify specific individuals with dates and times and to deliver this information to you by a certain deadline.

A Final Word

If you want to build stronger bonds between you and your team members, support them in taking ownership over their own learning, and help them develop the skills they need to perform at their peak, try establishing regular coaching conversations.

Coaching accelerates progress by providing greater focus and awareness of choice. It concentrates on where you are today and what you are willing to do to get where you want to be tomorrow. Coaching provides a transformative space for your employee to experience easier and accelerated growth to move them towards their goals. It provides insights and clarity, pattern recognition and interruption, conscious commitment, real time feedback, and accountability.

Join the movement and coach your heart out.

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others. 

I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

©2019 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

The Secret to Coaching Performance: Begin with Empathy

February 27, 2019 • 8 minute read • by Saeed


“What is necessary to change a person, is to change his awareness of himself.”

Abraham Maslow

You’ve been a manager and a leader for a long time. You’ve followed the traditional route of managing performance. It has had mixed results. You want more. You yearn more. You want to develop and grow your people. You feel a sense of responsibility towards them and to yourself. If so, performance coaching may be just the remedy you need for your management hangover.

Re-framing the conversation

At first, when adopting a performance coaching approach, you may find it challenging to change the types of conversations you usually have with your employees. This is understandable. The likelihood is that these are long-standing relationships where conversations have been limited to tactical considerations vs. growth and development concerns. In contrast, performance coaching (coaching aimed at optimizing performance) seeks to re-frame such conversations into discussions of the results the employee seeks to achieve, in terms of both improved performance and improved operational results.

However, there are “basic” steps or pre-conditions that need to be met before an individual can successfully advance to the next level and achieve progress towards performance goals.

At the root of every organization are its people. Their needs are universally human. Humans generally want to contribute their best work, and they need to believe their work matters in order to do so. They need to be an accepted part of a tribe. They need to be empowered and enabled to get work done. They need their contributions appreciated, and their ideas and opinions respected.

So, where do you start?

Start with Needs

If you are a proponent of Freudian psychology, human beings are entirely driven by primitive urges like sex and aggression. If you are in the B.F. Skinner camp, they are just over-sized lab rats waiting to be conditioned.  At best, these approaches were dehumanizing. At worst, harmful. Their rather bleak, soul-less vision of human nature constituted the first two “waves” of psychology as a science. In the third wave, Abraham Maslow and the humanists brought a more optimistic view of human nature that focused more on positive mental health and psychology than their predecessors’ obsession with mental illness and misery.

It’s upon this work that the modern workplace can fashion its approach to performance and productivity coaching. Just as the Hierarchy of Needs is a model in which Maslow attempted to capture different levels of human motivation, a similar mental model is useful here to establish a baseline from which we start performance coaching.

A 2017 Gallup poll found that only three in 10 employees strongly agree with the statement that their opinions count at work. Gallup calculated that by “moving the ratio to six in 10 employees, organizations could realize a 27% reduction in turnover, a 40% reduction in safety incidents, and a 12% increase in productivity.” And macro-level employee engagement data is generally dismal, showing that nationally around 30% of employees are engaged with their work, meaning a healthy majority are disconnected and unmotivated.

The framework presented here recognizes that these employees are not having fundamental needs met and is grounded in developmental theory and builds on the work of Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs.”

These needs can be summarized as follows:

1.      The need to feel valued – Investing in employee appreciation is critical. In fact, if ensuring your employees feel valued is not one of your primary prerogatives as a manager, your company will suffer as a result. That is simply because feeling valued is probably the most central need humans have. Feeling valued is not a one-off like feeling appreciated. It’s something that is built over time. This reinforces the importance of regular coaching conversations.

2.      The need for psychological safety – Fear of failure is a key indicator of an environment with low levels of psychological safety. Psychological safety is present when the environment is safe for interpersonal risk taking and people feel able to speak up with relevant ideas questions or concerns.

3.      The need for trust – Trust is the foundation for building strong teams, creating a positive work culture, and producing results. You know the environment is suffering from a lack of trust when communication is covert, employees lack loyalty, and results are inconsistent.

4.      The need for connection – work relationships are incredibly important to employee well-being. As humans, we crave contact and connection with other people just as we do food, shelter, and safety. Hence the success of so many social media platforms. As humans, we crave contact and connection with other people. It’s an important component of belonging to a tribe and a key stimulator of intrinsic motivation.

5.      The need for meaning – People find meaning when they see a clear connection between what they highly value and what they spend time doing. That connection is not always obvious, however. Hence, the coaching conversation. We are usually pretty good at sharing financial data. But far more motivating to employees are stories about human impact and how what they do has influence on that impact.

6.      The need for autonomy – When asked why they decided to switch to a different career, the vast majority of employees represented in a recent U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics report indicated they felt either a lack of respect or a lack of autonomy. Autonomy is both a personal trait and a motivational state. From the time you learned to crawl, you have been striving towards a feeling of self-determination and self-directedness. But while we reach for autonomy and self-determination, we are continuously hamstrung by rules, structures, and policies. This means that although autonomy can be somewhat stable at the personality level, it can vary from situation to situation and moment to moment. Evidence from research suggests strongly that when the need for autonomy is satisfied, people feel more interested, engaged, and happy.

7.      The need for respect and recognition – Recognized employees are happy employees. How many times has your manager taken credit for an idea you had and how many times did your motivation go down the tubes along with it? You may or may not take your work home with you but you do take home the feelings you are left with when you have not been recognized for your contributions. You feel slighted, angry, and disappointed. You might even start hitting the job boards. Conversely, recognized employees tend to stick around and report feeling more fulfilled on the job. Despite years of research proving the overwhelmingly positive effect of employee recognition on the bottom line, few bosses take the time to recognize and reward their employees for a job well done.

8.      The need for growth and learning – Employees will always perform at their best when the environment is conducive to growth. One of the most important factors in employee engagement is whether employees feel as if they have opportunities for growth and development. Those who grow are far more likely to engage than those who stagnate in their roles. It’s no secret that innovative technology and generational expectations are redefining the relationship between work and learning. Careers today are a continuous learning journey rather than the product of one necessitating the modern workplaces to become hubs of personal development. That’s a good thing because with the dynamic and ambitious millennial generation set to make up half of the U.S. workforce by 2020, the demand for progressive career models is on the rise. If you want engaged employees, embrace continuous learning.

9.      The need to understand the ‘why’ – If you don’t know your responsibilities and you don’t know why you are tasked with a particular project or outcome, it’s hard to be engaged. Unless employees understand the greater why behind what they do, their motivation to do it will always be less than 100%. This is a critical component of management but also a difficult one because often as managers, we just want the work to get done. The truth is however, that the change you seek will never happen organizationally unless people understand the ‘why’ behind their what. The way to approach this is simply to communicate the strategy in a more proactive manner, so that all employees understand the importance of the changes you seek to implement.

10.  The need for certainty and consistency – Finally, human beings don’t do well with uncertainty and a lack of clarity. Obviously, when employees feel insecure in their jobs because of pending lay-offs or toxic bosses, motivation is impacted. But more commonplace, when there is no vision, no goal, no north star, it impacts motivation. Most people can deal with a boss who is demanding and quick to criticize… as long as he or she treats every employee the same. And your company vision creates a sense of purpose and adds a little meaning to even the most repetitive tasks. True,

I would argue that these top 10 needs all must be met at some level in order to optimize individual or group performance. This list does not preclude other needs such as the need for feedback. And we can discuss and debate the placement of each need in the hierarchy or whether some actually sit side-by-side. We don’t even have to think of it as a hierarchy. We can think of it as a chain that mustn’t have any weak links. Instead of debating how important we think each need is, manager-coaches should enter the conversation with this basic framework in mind. The highest-level need identified by the employee likely correlates to their main lever of motivation.

Ask Powerful Questions

Finally, to properly adopt a performance coach approach, you will need to reframe the conversation from a focus on evaluation and weakness to one that focuses on employee strengths, growth and development. Re-framing requires asking powerful questions in an effort to influence the way someone thinks about their role and their performance within that role. Research has it that self-perception is a greater predictor of performance than any other metric. Managers sometimes fear that such questions will be perceived as challenging the employees’ capacity to perform. Nothing is further from the truth (though I agree there is both a science and an art to the practice of asking powerful questions). If you are a manager of people, you need to start honing your questioning skill to a fine edge if you want to influence your employees’ performance.

A Final Word

By connecting your questions with the mindset of the employee, you begin to establish the baseline for having impact on their performance.

What kind of difference would it make for your company if your workforce was engaged in solving problems, making recommendations, expressing their new ideas, and taking care of your customers?

We all need employees who are enthusiastic and who bring their A+ game and their whole self to work every day.  You need this not just from your star players but from everyone every day. The single element that distinguishes one company from another more than anything else is its people and the effort they exert. I would argue that the secret to unlocking this unlimited source of energy for your company is to build and strengthen the bonds between you and your employees. When you trust and respect your people–and really connect with them–they will respond with commitment and enthusiasm.

The way to do that is to adopt an empathetic performance coaching approach.

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others. 

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©2019 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

7 Ways to Succeed in Any Role by Using Leadership Skills

January 30, 2019 • 7 minute read • by Saeed


“Leadership is not a position or a title, it is an action and example.” 

Cory Booker

Leadership is what makes an individual effective and successful at any job. At the most basic level, being a leader is about positively impacting the people around you. The characteristics of a good leader include the ability to anticipate problems and solve them when they arise, to ‘read’ challenging situations, take initiative, and simply exhibit virtue that inspires others to be their best. In leadership, character comes first. To be successful in any role, let your leadership qualities permeate and show through more than just one approach: be resourceful, be composed during a crisis, and be flexible when dealing with colleagues and clients.

Here are a few more leadership lessons applicable to any role:

1.      Be a Problem Solver

The core responsibility of any leader is to resolve organizational issues at every level. This comes by analyzing the entire situation logically and with a cool head. The consequence of this would be a fast action-oriented decision that would work in the best interest of the organization and its stakeholders. It is the problem-solving skill that helps any leader to analyze and anticipate trends and issues. It is what makes a leader strategic and effective. Due to the successful turn-around of any problem, a leader will inspire the team while cultivating an image of reliability and credibility thereby earning the respect of all.

2.      Focus deeply on a few issues

Leaders don’t go wide, they go deep. Instead of picking 16 topics to cover in a shallow way, leaders pick a small number of issues that they want to own, and go deep on them developing expertise along the way. By contrast, some try to address a large number of issues and end up with mediocre or poor performance. When it comes to achievement, the law of diminishing returns is as real as the law of gravity. Diving in shallow waters does not bring you the big fish.

3.      Always Show Initiative

A common scenario in any industry is when you are faced with a problem but it’s not clear whose job it is to fix it. When faced with such a challenge, a common reaction is to say that this is ‘not my job.’ It is imperative in such moments that you are able to display traits that will demonstrate why you were hired in the first place. This means demonstrating qualities of an effective leader including confidence, foresight, and the willingness to take the initiative to resolve the situation. By following these, you will not only get to the root cause of any potential problem but more importantly avoid unnecessary extra work. Displaying attention to detail and taking initiative shows that you are trustworthy, diligent, and dependable – and above all – you are a leader.

4.      Put People First

An effective leader is one that assesses a situation clear of prejudice and examines everything with an open mind through an objective outlook. In any job, it is necessary to interact with everyone accordingly. Underestimating the importance of relationship is a huge mistake. It is reckless to compromise a relationship to score a point with the boss. Throwing your team members under the bus is an unethical and unprofessional act. Great leaders put great stock into all their relationships because ultimately, they know it contributes to them being more effective at the different roles they have to perform.

5.      Have High Standards, Even Higher Values

Demonstrating strong values is one of the most important leadership competencies in the workplace. You shouldn’t throw your values out the window just to make a job easier. Not upholding certain ethics, standards, and values will lead to all sorts of issues. To put it simply, allowing for such to happen is unbecoming of a leader in any role. Values-driven leaders lead from a deep sense of purpose and service to others demonstrating strong values such as honestly, integrity, excellence, courage, humility, trust, and care for people and planet.

6.      Become a Communication Ninja

All great leaders are good communicators. They understand how to get a point across, describe the company vision to their employees, make sure daily tasks are getting done, facilitate office conversations, and know when it’s the right time or the wrong time for a meeting. It takes an investment of time, emotion, and effort to be a good communicator. It’s the job of the leader to rally and regroup the troops when times are tough and devise better plans that will reap better result. Being an effective communicator will inspire your team to work harder, possibly even going beyond their job responsibilities. After all, cohesive teamwork, in any and every shape and form, translates to more work done.

7.      Embrace radical accountability

We tend to think of accountability as something that is good for others but not ourselves.  But a successful leader is all about accountability, especially when results regarding certain projects are not favorable or when their own limitations are holding a project back. Most people are not prepared for the behavior changes that are required of them to be radically accountable. If you care about gaining the trust of others, you have to not just tolerate, but to embrace a deeper level of scrutiny and be able to engage in authentic feedback. This type of transparency and authenticity builds trust. Trust becomes the foundation of great teamwork and great relationships. We tend to hide our weaknesses never exposing them to the light. But by exposing them to the light, we have the opportunity to liberate ourselves from those limitations that we might otherwise subconsciously identify with. Accountability is a condition that is created in the interior of our relationships. Accountability is the ability to take into account the experience of the other and to own responsibility for the outcomes you have set out to achieve.

A Final Word

The Importance of leadership skills cannot be emphasized enough. It forms a strong foundation for your career success as well as the success of any team or organization. Adopting and nurturing these qualities will not only help you survive as an employee but also show that you are in fact a leader! It will help you to thrive within your role and with your team. All the factors above contribute to a well-rounded and highly effective leader. Consider each of these elements and incorporate them into your daily work as you move forward into becoming the best leader you can be.

Good luck!

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others. 

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©2019 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

Why Collaboration is Not Always the Answer

January 25, 2019 • 4 minute read • by Saeed


You’ve watched ants at work. You’ve seen them collaborating around a shared goal. Ants are social insects and outnumber humans a million to one. They would rule the world if they could strategically switch mindsets between teamwork and collaboration.

We all think we understand what collaboration is, we all think we understand what it means, if this is true then how come we constantly read accounts of it failing? Well this is not the case. Collaboration is misunderstood and overused.

As a matter of fact, it’s common for people to use the terms collaboration and teamwork interchangeably. It’s common, but it’s wrong.

Teamwork – Collaboration, What’s the Difference?

Teamwork

Teams are created usually by a manager who is looking for a specific single result. A group of people with the required skills are assembled. Tasks, timelines, goals, and success measures are created and the team is off and running. Their actions are interdependent, but are fully committed to the result articulated by the manager.

For the most part, as long as the team is provided with good leadership and has the project management skills to and coordinate the action, teams work well. That’s teamwork. But that’s not collaboration. The key for a successful team lies in its leader. You can have an ineffective, argumentative team but as long as strong leadership is provided to resolve disputes and help the team communicate and coordinate their activities, odds are the team will be successful. We have all been in these situations before where engaging in effective teamwork really hinges on the effectiveness of the leader. There is a certain framework backed by standards and expectations that we engage in, when we work on teams. Accountability on a team is usually, in theory at least, clear. So are the lines of communication and how delegated tasks are advanced. Control is key with teamwork.

Collaboration

Collaboration on the other hand is completely different. Collaborators usually have some shared goals that are only a smaller part of their overall responsibilities. Unlike teams, collaborators cannot rely on a leader to resolve differences, and cannot walk away from each other when they do disagree. In collaboration, the hierarchy experienced on teams is muted so accountability, communication, and how tasks are advanced all look different. Successful collaboration is reliant on the relationships of give and take between its participants. The end product comes from the effort of the group thinking and working together as equal partners; without a leader. Where collaboration breaks down is when there is a lack of trust, an inability to have healthy conflict and no framework established for accountability (mutual trust and agreement).

 So Teamwork or Collaboration? Which Should I use?

Both models are important and useful. It’s important to know how to be a team player but also to know how to be an effective collaborator. Knowing when to push and pull in each scenario is often a matter of emotional intelligence. With collaboration, you have to learn to share power and expect that your idea is not always the best idea.

Ask yourself these questions: Do I want participants to work as a team or as collaborators? Do I run this project as a collaboration or as a team? Which model will work best for this specific project? How do I prepare my personnel to excel as collaborators? How do I encourage team leaders?

Establishing teams uses up lots of internal resources. Collaboration is best when a project is greater than any one individual’s expertise and you don’t want to pull dedicated resources to ensure completion. Collaboration expands the team’s expertise.

Collaboration should not be thought of as a permanent solution. Collaborative groups should form, complete a project and disband. While collaborative engagements usually take longer, they should not be allowed to go ad infinitum. A team often stays together. When deciding whether a collaborative relationship is really necessary, assess if the conditions for success exist. Do people know how to work in a leader-less environment? Are they equipped to handle conflict? How will they communicate? How will they keep each other accountable?

A Final Word

So, collaboration and teamwork, no matter how similar they may seem are actually different. Both enable employees to work together efficiently to complete tasks and reach targets quicker. Both play an important role in the world of business. Choosing which to use, is an important decision with regards to resources as well as the capacity of personnel involved.

Creating an environment that encourages everyone to work together can have a big impact on your team’s performance.  Finding the correct balance between autonomous working, teamwork and collaboration will help to play to each person’s individual strengths to keep the workforce engaged and efficient.

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others. 

I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

©2019 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.